You are in Artists > Shepard Fairey
Place(s) of work: Los Angeles (us)
A street artist who came to international renown after designing the iconic "Hope" poster for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Shepard Fairey has become perhaps the most high-profile artist in America to regularly find himself in trouble with the law.
Born in South Carolina, Shepard Fairey attended art school at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied illustration and became attracted to phenomenology, a branch of theory Heidegger described as "the process of letting things manifest themselves." Uniting these two interests, Fairey began illegally plastering economically-designed stickers of Andre the Giant's head (to which he would eventually add the word "Obey") around Providence. In a 1990 "manifesto," Fairey wrote: "The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one's environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings.... The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker."
After graduating in 1991, Fairey--who continued to spread his now-iconic "Obey" campaign to ever more far-flung places--opened a printing store in Providence that specialized in silkscreens, t-shirt design, and stickers. Then from 1997 to 2003 he was one of the founding partners of a guerrilla marketing firm called "BLK/MRKT Inc.," which worked with such blue-chip clients as Pepsi Co. and Netscape (for whom Fairey designed Mozilla's red dinosaur logo). The artist also began wheatpasting increasingly ambitious posters on urban walls, depicting political figures from Patty Hearst to hijab-clad female revolutionaries--usually with an anti-war slant--with a red, black, and white palette evocative of Soviet propaganda. These increasingly baroque yet immediately telegraphic designs, often containing a version of the "Obey Giant" as a signature or authenticating stamp, rarely stay up for long before being peeled off by freebie-seeking collectors or destroyed by graffiti.
After moving to Los Angeles in 2003, where he designed album covers for bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Fairey became more fully engaged in political causes, weaving explicitly anti-Bush messages into his work. In 2008 he designed his "Hope" poster, departing from his usual color scheme to portray Barack Obama in spare, graphically seductive red, white, and blue. Obama's grassroots supporters immediately embraced the design, distributing half a million posters during the campaign, although Obama himself never officially embraced it due to a legal issue--the photograph used as the basis of the poster had been lifted without permission from an Associated Press photograph. As a result of this appropriation, Fairey--who claims his action was protected under the "fair use" statute--and the A.P. entered a suit-and-counter-suit legal battle that was unresolved as of August 2009. In January of that year the poster was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. for its collection.
Fairey, who describes his work as "graphic art with social and political messages," has had numerous other run-ins with the authorities due to the illegal nature of his street art, and he has been arrested more than a dozen times. In February 2009, the artist was arrested as he was pulling up to the opening of a career survey of his work at the ICA Boston, charged with vandalism for plastering his "Obey" stickers throughout the city. In July 2009 he pleaded guilty, accepting a two-year prohibition on carrying posters, stickers, or other art supplies within Boston--an effective ban from the city--and apologizing for his actions. "I believe in the importance of making art accessible through many avenues," Fairey said. "However, I also believe it is important that people respect private property and do not use it without the authorization of the owner."
Watch "QBN Sessions Presents Shepard Fairey" [via QBN Sessions]:
Watch Shepard Fairey discuss his HOPE design for Barack Obama's political campaign [via losangelestimes]:(read less)
Techniques & Media: Design, Mural Art, Print
Inspirations & Key Themes: Heidegger, Phenomenology, Politics, Pop art, Propaganda
Influenced by : Andy Warhol
Worked with : Seth Indigo Carnes